Post-production is when the material from the production process is edited, sound mixed and, finally, delivered to you as a finished video.
There are generally two stages, rough-cut and fine-cut. As the commissioner your first viewing will be at the rough cut stage.
What can you expect to see at each stage?
As the name implies, a rough cut is when the video is roughly representative of the finished article. That is, the structure is more or less complete, the interviewees are saying more or less what you want them to, the pictures illustrating the video are more or less in place. Sound and picture will, from the perspective of the technical quality, be roughly representative of the end product.
You should expect to give feedback at this stage.
The viewing may take place in an edit suite, or you may be sent a link to view via YouTube or Vimeo.
How to view a rough cut.
I would suggest that you view the video at least once all the way through, without stopping, to get an overall sense of how well the story is coming across. Second time through watch in sections, stop, make notes, rewind, discuss (if you’re with the producer.)
If you’re new to the process ask as many questions as you need to in order to understand what you are seeing. My key piece of advice at this stage is never assume anything. Never assume that because something was in the shooting script, or because at an earlier stage you discussed a particular idea that is not yet in the rough cut, that it will somehow appear later, or in the fine cut. It won’t.
In most cases the producer and editor will have already addressed technical issues before you see the rough cut. Nonetheless, if the sound seems too quiet, if the picture is too over or under exposed, question it. Never assume.
If an interview has not provided what you expected or thought it might, ask, there may be something in the unedited footage that has been overlooked.
If, overall, and despite everything having been done by the producer to deliver what you both agreed needed to be delivered, something does’t feel right. (And feelings and instincts are as important as a rational, intellectual analysis.) Discuss your concerns, together you can tease out what needs to be addressed. It may be a question of the pacing, perhaps elements need to be re-ordered, perhaps it needs music.
Finally, put down in writing what you have agreed needs to be addressed and make sure you and the producer have a copy.
The fine cut will take into account these notes and you should expect to view this final stage to approve any changes. Except in the most exceptional of circumstances you should not expect to give further notes at this stage. Minor changes can be made, but the stress here is on the minor.
A note on the viewing and approval processes.
The commissioner needs to be clear about the viewing and approval processes, and those processes should be in any contract. How quickly will you respond after the rough and fine cuts are delivered?
It is advisable to be clear from the commissioning organisation’s perspective how the internal approval process will work: Who needs to see it? If more than one person needs to see the rough and fine cuts, will they view it together or separately?
Has everyone viewing the video read and understood the brief? Are they familiar with the background to the video and why it tells the story in the way it does? Who will co-ordinate the notes to be given to the producer? Consider the practicalities, have senior managers got dates in their diaries for the viewings?
Be clear about who will deliver any notes to the producers. Ideally this will be one person, and should be the same person that has been in contact with the producers throughout the process.